Joe's Real BBQ
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ
Just in case you forgot, spareribs are not supposed to be health food. And no, that white stuff on 'em that tastes so good is not granola. That's pork fat. Each hunk you suck off that rib bone is equal to a pack of unfiltered Camels and is sure to slice 365 days off your life span. Okay, we're exaggerating, but you get the point. Still, what would ribs be without a little gristle on 'em? They wouldn't be ribs from Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert, and they wouldn't make you want to lick your dining companion's pile of leftover bones. Maybe that's why the place is called Joe's REAL BBQ. At other places, the ribs are lean -- the porkers work out on the treadmill and do sit-ups. But Joe's hogs are lounging somewhere, drinking margaritas, eating bonbons, and watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Well, Larry David is a pig.) The ribs have just enough fat on them to make 'em delish. And the sauce is sticky, tangy, almost sweet. No one makes granola that tastes like this, but then again, maybe they should.
Lotus Asian Cafe and Grill is small in space, but colossal when it comes to taste. Chef Abraham Indradjaja does Chandler proud by offering the best curry in the PHX with his gulai kambing. Gulai kambing is a hot, rich brown curry served in a bowl, almost as a soup, with small bits of lamb ribs and meat and a dozen or more different spices. Unlike any other curry you can imagine, it explodes like Chinese fireworks in your mouth, with a complexity most other curries cannot match. If you need to cool down afterward, try a bowl of es campur, an ice-cream-like mélange of shaved ice, jellied palm fruit, and lychee-esque rambutans. Only in Chandler? Well, until you can afford that round-trip ticket to Jakarta, or until Lotus opens up a sister cafe in downtown Phoenix, the answer is "Yes."
Caffe Boa on Mill
Lauren Saria
In the States, eating escargots usually means chewy, tasteless gastropods so overwhelmed by garlic and butter that you might as well be gnawing on someone's shoelace. Why are these terrestrial mollusks so gross here and so exquisite overseas? Well, for one reason, the snails you get in Europe tend to be fresher, and we suspect that some of the black, rubbery escargots restaurateurs are palming off to us here in the ol' U.S. of A. are so tasteless that loads of garlic and butter are the easiest way to hide this fact. After all, if their snails were fresh and delish, why would you choose the one way of preparing them sure to obscure their earthy magnificence? There are other ways of preparing escargots, and one place unafraid of breaking with the cliché is Tempe's Caffe Boa. Its "lumache Boa" consists of escargots sautéed in a tomato sauce with mushrooms, black olives, red peppers, white wine and two slices of grilled polenta. Not only is the sauce palatable without being overpowering, but you can actually taste the snails. And that's a good thing. For those who've only had escargots in garlic and butter, Caffe Boa's lumache Boa should be a revelation. Then you'll realize just what a fraud the whole garlic-butter-snail combo usually is.
Amante Pizza and Pasta
Diana Martinez
Bulgarians give the best tongue. That is, if we're to judge by the tongue action at the Bulgarian-European Mirage Grill and Bar. Mirage is a beautiful watering hole/eatery on the west side, known for preparing a number of exotic Eastern European treats, such as poached eggs over yogurt, sautéed tripe, and Balkan sausages. But the beef tongue is our fave. Quite unlike the sliced, sandwich-thin tongue you'll get in Jewish delis, Mirage's tongue is thick, soft, pan-fried and très savory. (Kinda like Eva Longoria's, or so we hear.) If you haven't had it before, you're in for a treat: an entree that can actually taste you back! And this in romantic environs of travertine floors, marble fixtures, an S-shaped black granite bar top with gold flakes, wrought-iron chairs, and beige tablecloths. What with that decor and a little tongue, you never know, you may just get lucky.
Sala Thai Restaurant
Some of the best things in life hurt, at least a little. Like getting slapped on your fanny by that obscure object of your desire. Or eating the Thai chile-flaked clear noodle salad at the newly opened Sala Thai Restaurant. This innocent-looking pile of glass noodles, ground pork and shrimp is guaranteed to set your eyes to watering unless your tongue's made of cast iron, or your mouth's lined with ceramic tiles. Why, if you're one of those who likes their Thai food spicy, and Sala's clear noodle salad doesn't do the trick, then please give us a holla, and we'll be down there with a jug of gasoline and a flamethrower to make sure you can be classified under Homo sapiens. The other stuff on Sala's menu is grand, but we dig the way those clear noodles with the red flakes hurt us so good, à la John Mellencamp.
The Stockyards Restaurant and 1889 Saloon
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Come on down to the sign of E.A. Tovrea's "circle-walking-L" brand, and enter an era where the men were men, the women wore dresses, and the calves were scared. And no, they weren't afraid of any, er, animal husbandry. Rather, it was all those cowpokes walking around with buckets filled with the gonads of their brethren. See, "calf fries" are just a euphemism for the testicles of young calves, fried up and served with a spicy chipotle relish. Tastes like chicken? No, tastes like veal, which it is. Very soft and juicy veal, as you might expect considering the source. The same glands from not-so-young cattle are often referred to as "mountain" or "prairie" oysters. We get the oyster part, because there is something about the texture which is, well, oystery. And "prairie" makes sense. But "mountain"? When's the last time you saw a cow on a mountain? Anyway, the Stockyards was once the biggest feed lot in the West, if not the country, supporting 40,000 head. The feed lot came first, the restaurant second, to feed the cowboys and cattle barons, folk not terribly squeamish about eating cow cojónes. That's how the tradition began, and now that the Stockyards has reopened after a long renovation, even a tenderfoot like you can enjoy a platter of the best balls in the Valley. Yum.
Super Dragon Restaurant
Super Dragon is probably the most consistent neighborhood Chinese eatery in the Valley, serving up mainly Cantonese-style fare in a clean, pleasant environment with superior service. Standards such as cashew chicken and walnut prawns never disappoint, but our faves on Super Dragon's menu are the Cantonese roasted duck, and the braised duck with mixed veggies. In both cases, the duck is flavorful and juicy, a feast for the senses that only Daffy and Donald would have trouble noshing. Whenever we ease our haunches into one of Super Dragon's booths, the waiters always know what we want, and after we get it, they know those duck-laden platters are gonna end up with a tongue-bath by the end of our stay. Super Dragon also does an excellent Peking duck, i.e., a whole, roasted duck with a crispy skin, plum sauce, and Chinese crepes. As if that weren't enough, the place stays open late, 'til 10:30 p.m. daily. Super Dragon, indeed!
Zinc Bistro
David Holden
There's something about squab that sounds so PBS. A dish some pudgy, truculent barrister should be supping on with a glass of sherry at hand. And when you get right down to it, squab, or domesticated pigeon, is about the last thing you'll see on menus these days, even at better restaurants in town. Too bad, because the flesh of this four-week-old bird is dark and succulent, far more delicious than Charlie chicken or Tom turkey. However, Zinc Bistro is known for providing a classic French bistro experience in the middle of the desert, right down to the look of its interior and the waiters in ties and vests. The best appetizer on the menu is a seared LaBelle Farms squab leg and breast, topped by foie gras, seated on a bed of mascarpone polenta, with cipollini braised in a honey liquor. If Zinc served nothing else but this, it would be worth the drive to Kierland Commons to try it. Even if that drive began in Oregon!
Asi Es La Vida
The folks at Asi Es La Vida offer up a twist on this Mexican custard that's currently our fave: its flan Napolitano, which, no, is not named after Governor Janet. Of course, we asked the folks over at Asi Es La Vida why it was called Napolitano, and they didn't know either! But they were able to tell us that this thicker, cakier version of the traditional flan is made using cream cheese, which explains the cheesecake-like texture that results. We've had flan Napolitanos elsewhere, but never as good as at Asi Es La Vida. And it should be a popular dessert with Republicans, as it's the only time they'll be able to stick a fork in a Napolitano and get away with it.
Maybe it's because tiramisu tastes so sinful that stories linger about this Tuscan trifle being so popular with Italian whores, who used it as their "pick me up" (the English translation of tiramisu) between clients. Or maybe it's because Eye-ties tend to be rather sensual. After all, are there any Fellini films that do not feature prostitutes? Heck, we know we'd turn tricks in Rome for just one goblet of Scottsdale trattoria Radda's tiramisu. It's the creation of chef Lori Hassler, who runs the hip little spot along with her band of youthful restaurateurs, and since we tasted Hassler's tiramisu late last year, it's become the yardstick by which we judge all others. Could it be the savoiardi (ladyfingers) dipped in strong coffee, espresso and amaretto? Or the made-from-scratch cream of mascarpone, eggs, sugar and Marsala? All we know is it tastes so delightful served in those bulbous wineglasses that many a nosher has been known to swipe them from the premises! Egad, and we thought our collection was going to be one of a kind.

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